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International Equal Pay Day: Bridging wage gaps with progress in motion

Championing equal wages on International Equal Pay Day and reflecting on steps taken and the collective push for fair compensation and inclusive workplaces.

September 18th marks International Equal Pay Day, a significant occasion that highlights the ongoing battle for pay equity across genders and cultures. This day is not only a reminder of the work yet to be done but also a celebration of the strides that have been made towards achieving fair compensation for all.

In this blog post, we delve into the meaning behind International Equal Pay Day, explore its historical context, and emphasize its crucial link to academic integrity and success. Moreover, we'll shed light on other equality-focused holidays celebrated around the world, symbolizing a united effort towards wage parity for each and every person.

What is International Equal Pay Day?

International Equal Pay Day serves as a global reminder of the persistent wage disparities that exist among various demographics, particularly when it comes to gender. The day draws attention to the unfortunate reality that women, on average, continue to earn less than their male counterparts for the same or similar work. This disparity, known as the gender pay gap, transcends borders, impacting women's economic independence, career advancement, and overall quality of life.

According to the Pew Research Center, across the past two decades in the United States women have earned an average of 82% of what men earned. (In 2002, women earned 80% as much as men). Worldwide, women only make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. And according to a global Wealth Equity Index report from WTW in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, women upon retirement are expected to have only 74% of the wealth that men have—despite having longer life spans, on average.

This pay gap may be explained by measurable factors such as work experience and educational attainment, in addition to the larger numbers of women being overrepresented in lower-paying occupations relative to their share of the workforce (Aragão, 2023). There are also other factors that are harder to quantify—gender discrimination or family caregiving responsibilities that are typically unpaid, but taken on by women—that influence these numbers.

But a wage gap is more than a number on a page: it represents social and economic factors that have a tremendous impact on how both men and women live their lives, making this holiday even more important to recognize.

Why do we celebrate International Equal Pay Day?

The celebration of International Equal Pay Day is twofold. Firstly, it aims to raise awareness about the gender pay gap and its detrimental effects on individuals, families, and society as a whole. Secondly, it celebrates the progress that has been made in addressing this issue while acknowledging the work that remains to be done. It's a day to amplify voices advocating for pay equity, empower individuals to negotiate fair wages, and call upon governments and organizations to take action against discrimination in the workplace.

In a Pew Research Center survey conducted in October 2022, half of U.S. adults say that a major reason this pay gap persists in the United States is that women are treated differently by employers. In fact, there is growing research around what is called the “Motherhood penalty” where women are discriminated against because of their parent status. “According to a Harvard study,” says Ivana Pino from Fortune, “hiring managers are less likely to hire mothers than women who don’t have kids. And when they do hire a woman with children, employers are likely to offer her a lower salary than those without kids.”

In the same study, moms were six times less likely than non-mothers and 3.35 times less likely than child-free men to be recommended for hire. And if they did land the role, moms were more likely to be passed up for a promotion. “While the term is based on bias, and stereotypical views of mothers, it has real impact on wages, pay equity, hiring, considerations for promotions and advancement, and inclusion in the workplace,” says Pam Cohen, Ph.D., chief research and analytics officer at the Mom Project, a career-resource platform for working mothers. Persistent challenges faced by women in addition to balancing work/family responsibilities include lack of transportation, lack of affordable care, and biased gender roles pressuring women to “conform” that may permeate within a culture.

Around the world, efforts are being made to bring awareness around gender discrimination and wage disparity, encouraging those that can affect positive change to take action. “The freedom to work — by choice, in conditions of dignity, safety and fairness — is integral to human welfare,” states the International Labour Organization. By increasing the number of women in the workforce and enhancing their pay, developed countries would see their average annual GDP growth increase, as well as substantially boosting overall global GDP.

And while comprehensive legislation and meaningful business best practices still have a long way to go to ensure equal pay for equal work, let’s take a look at the history of International Pay Day to highlight advances that have already been made.

What is the history of International Equal Pay Day?

The origins of International Equal Pay Day trace back to the tireless efforts of women's rights advocates and labor movements. The day serves as a global focal point for activists, policymakers, and organizations to unite in their commitment to ending pay discrimination. While the specific date may vary across countries, the shared goal is consistent: to create a world where individuals are compensated based on their skills, contributions, and responsibilities rather than their gender or background.

Over the past century, there have been notable advances that have collectively contributed to narrowing the gender pay gap and promoting greater equality in the workforce, including:

Equal Pay Act of 1963 (USA): The United States passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, which made it illegal for employers to pay men and women differently for the same work. This landmark legislation laid the foundation for equal pay rights in the workforce.

Pay transparency initiatives: Many countries and organizations have introduced pay transparency measures, requiring companies to disclose salary information, which helps uncover and address gender pay gaps. Michelle Cheng, talent director at British venture capital firm Notion Capital, says: ““A company that's happy to publish its salaries is more likely to compensate its people fairly, manage performance consistently and communicate on other matters clearly. Increasingly, top candidates are looking for companies that align with their personal values, so it's no surprise they're looking for companies that prize transparency.” She also believes that pay transparency will help to advance diversity in both tech and leadership.

Gender pay gap reporting: Several countries, including the UK and Australia, now require larger companies to report their gender pay gaps annually, increasing transparency and accountability in addressing pay disparities. According to OECD.org, “Gender pay gap reporting, equal pay audits and other pay transparency policies help advance gender equality at the workplace.”

Equal pay for equal work: Legal frameworks and collective bargaining agreements have increasingly emphasized the principle of "equal pay for equal work," ensuring that individuals are paid equally for performing similar job roles.

Women's labor force participation: Over the past century, there has been a significant increase in women's participation in the labor force, challenging stereotypes and contributing to the push for equal pay. Unfortunately, the pandemic negatively affected the number of women in the workforce: according to the US Chamber of Commerce, an estimated one million women are missing from the labor force compared to pre-pandemic.

Maternity and paternity leave policies: In just over ten years, 80% of all women in industrialized countries and 70% globally, will be working outside the home throughout their child-bearing years (ILO, 2023). The introduction of parental leave policies in many countries has helped reduce gender-based discrimination related to career progression, promoting a more equitable work environment.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), more than 120 nations now provide paid maternity leave. The countries that provide the most paid maternity leave by law include: the Czech Republic – 28 weeks; Hungary – 24 weeks; Italy – 5 months; Canada – 17 weeks; Spain and Romania – 16 weeks each. Denmark, Norway, and Sweden all provide extensive paid leave which may be taken by either parent, although a portion is reserved for the mother.

The US has one of the least generous maternity leave policies among developed nations. In fact, the US ranks last among 41 high-income countries in terms of paid parental leave policies. In the United States, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 provided a total of 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for the birth of a child and the care of the newborn. Many companies and states offer additional coverage and funding for prenatal and postpartum time, but compared to other developed countries, this is an area of great concern for the US.

Advocacy and awareness: The rise of social and feminist movements, along with increased awareness of gender pay disparities, has put significant pressure on governments and businesses to address wage inequalities and promote equal pay for all. Groups like the Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC), led by the ILO, UN Women, and the OECD, work worldwide to achieve equal pay for women and men everywhere.

Diversity and inclusion initiatives: Many organizations now focus on diversity and inclusion (DE&I), recognizing that a diverse workforce is not only fair but also enhances creativity and innovation, leading to more equitable compensation practices. Additionally, these initiatives also go hand-in-hand with the other pay equality-focused holidays (below) that highlight the intersection of underrepresented groups in the workplace and wage disparity.

What are other pay equality-focused holidays?

As we reflect on the significance of International Equal Pay Day, it's important to acknowledge the numerous equality-focused holidays. These observances underscore the multifaceted nature of the struggle for pay parity and emphasize the need for inclusivity in our efforts. Please note: the date of observance of many of these holidays changes yearly, illustrating how long a certain group would have to work in a calendar year in order to earn wage parity.

Here are a few notable examples:

  • Equal Pay Day (Various Dates in America - March 14 for 2023): In the United States, Equal Pay Day signifies the point in the year up to which women would need to work to earn what their male counterparts earned the previous year. The date varies annually, underlining the gap between men's and women's earnings.
  • Asian American Women Equal Pay Day (May 3): Drawing attention to the pay disparities that Asian American women face, often exacerbated by cultural stereotypes and biases.
  • Black and African-American Women's Equal Pay Day (September 21): Highlighting the unique challenges faced by Black and African-American women, who experience an even wider wage gap due to intersecting factors of race and gender.
  • Native American Women Equal Pay Day (November 30): Addressing the unique challenges faced by Native American women in their pursuit of fair compensation.
  • Latinx Women Equal Pay Day (December 8): Spotlighting the substantial wage gap endured by Latina women, emphasizing the importance of equal pay for all ethnicities.

How does equal pay equate to academic integrity and academic success?

Equal pay is not only a matter of economic justice; it's also deeply intertwined with academic integrity and success. When individuals are compensated fairly for their work, they are more likely to pursue higher education without financial constraints. This leads to a diverse and thriving academic community, fostering innovative ideas and solutions.

Moreover, the pursuit of equal pay aligns with the principles of academic integrity. Academic institutions that prioritize fair compensation demonstrate a commitment to equality and fairness, setting an example for students to emulate. In her 2022 study, Kelly Capatosto found that “Despite sustained efforts, women employed within the higher education system continue to earn less than their similarly credentialed male counterparts across all levels of the profession.”

As universities and colleges take steps to address pay disparities, they cultivate an environment where individuals are valued for their contributions, irrespective of their gender or background.

In conclusion: International Equal Pay Day and progress in motion

International Equal Pay Day serves as a global rallying point to challenge wage disparities and advocate for fair compensation for all. Join the United Nations and other global organizations in recognizing this holiday. Together, by celebrating the progress we've made and acknowledging the road ahead, we stand united in the pursuit of a more equitable world.